Manchester City – a new low

Well, technically a new high.

A picture paints a thousand words, or 447 numbers, anyway. We don’t have any great affinity for Chelsea but a 5-1 win was the least they deserved after Manchester City committed this offence.

A mean average number of just over 40.5, and a median of 51. Adding insult to injury is the fact two of three 1-11 numbers are grossly out of place – the right- and left-backs wearing 5 and 11 respectively. Of the numbers from 31-47, City have only allocated 42 (Yaya Toure), so this could have been made slightly less worse.

Not much else to say, other than to hope that the FA might insist that teams go back to 1-11 rather than us having to put up with this shit.

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Celtic’s hoop dreams are dashed

It’s rare that we focus on the visuals of shirt numbers, in the way that the excellent book Football Type did. For what it’s worth, the style used by adidas in World Cups from 1978-90 (similar to our logo in the banner image) is probably our favourite.

This post deviates from the norm in that it centres around a notable numbers development in the aesthetic sense, but there’s enough going on in terms of what we usually cover too.

Until 1964, Celtic didn’t wear numbers anywhere on their kit and when they finally did, chairman Bob Kelly decided that they should be on the shorts rather than sullying the famous hoops. While Celtic had to wear numbers on their shirts in European games from 1975 on, it’s perhaps surprising that it took the SFA until 1994 to insist that they also did so in domestic matches.

For the opening two games of 1994-95, Celtic followed the instruction – but by having the numbers on the sleeves of their shirts rather than the backs. Unfortunately for them, the governing body clarified their stance, meaning that the trip to Ibrox on August 27 would be the first league game where numbers were worn on the back.

Again, Celtic displayed a bit of bloody-mindedness, as the digits were green:

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This was acceptable, however, and green numbers also appeared when Celtic premiered a new kit in the 1-0 win over Airdrieonians in the 1995 Scottish Cup final. However, for the 95-96 season, there was a white solid background on which the number sat.

Now that the boring visual stuff is out of the way, on to the super-exciting stuff. In the game – a 2-0 win for Celtic, though Rangers would ultimately win a seventh title in a row – both number 2s – Stuart McCall and Peter Grant – were in midfield. Dave McPherson wore 6 at right-back for Rangers, while Celtic’s Mike Galloway had 7.

Not called ‘Mad Jens’ for nothing

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Let’s be honest, few goalkeepers could pull it off, or would even attempt it, but for some reason it doesn’t look horrific.

It certainly sits better with us than Emiliano Viviano wearing 2 for Sampdoria. That just seems like a reserve keeper’s number – in a ‘block’ numbering style, for instance – whereas 9 feels like a part of an alphabetical system, where anything can go.

As it happens, if Germany had gone alphabetical at the 2006 World Cup, Jens Lehmann would have worn 15 (with Gerald Asamoah number 1 and Oliver Kahn 11), but by that stage he had taken number 1 as he had usurped Kahn as the first-choice goalkeeper. How did he end wearing the most centre-forwardiest of numbers in goal? Well, the explanation is (unfortunately?) fairly straightforward.

Lehmann wore 12 when backing up Kahn in the 2005 Confederations Cup, but he missed the first friendly of the 2005-06 season, a 2-2 draw with the Netherlands. Klinsmann decided to assign permanent numbers for the season in that game and, as Kahn started, it was no surprised that he wore 1. Another Arsenal German, Per Mertesacker, wore 29, the number he had for both Hannover 96 and Werder Bremen before taking 4 at Arsenal.

For Germany’s next game, away to Slovakia, Lehman was back in the squad but, as Kahn was obviously 1, it meant that he had to pick a different number. Perhaps wanting to avoid being seen as the second-choice goalkeeper by wearing 12, he took the lowest available option, which was 9, though he joked that he’d have preferred 10 (see comments section for clarification on this, we initially thought that Timo Hildebrand had taken 12). In 05-06, he enjoyed the best season of his life, playing so well that Klinsmann installed him as first choice for the World Cup.

He could have kept 9 – FIFA’s rules stipulate that squads must be numbered 1-23 and 1 has to be worn by a goalkeeper at the World Cup, but beyond that there are no other regulations – but he wanted to conform. “I must speak to Klinsmann again,” he said. “I’d prefer to play in 1 rather than 9.” The manager acquiesced, with Kahn having to make do with 12.

Lehman shone wearing 1, performing heroics in the penalty shootout quarter-final win over Argentina, and he was named in the 23-man all-star team.

Incidentally, wearing 9 was one of only a few deviations away from 1 for Lehmann. When squad numbers were introduced in the Bundesliga in 1995, he was Schalke’s first choice and so was allocated 1. In 1998, he joined Milan and was given the number 16 but it was a short-lived spell, as he returned to Germany after a half a season, joining Borussia Dortmund.

Their goalkeeper, Stefan Klos, had joined Rangers on Christmas Eve, so 1 was for Lehmann and, when he signed for Arsenal in the summer of 2003, it was to replace David Season, who had just vacated 1 as well. After five years there, it was back to Germany again, this time to VfB Stuttgart and again number 1, with Rafael Schäfer having left after just a season.

Two seasons there looked to have wound down his career, but there was to be one last outing in an Arsenal shirt. While undertaking his coaching badges there, he was re-signed as emergency cover by Arsène Wenger due to injuries to Wojciech Szczesny, Lukasz Fabianski and Vito Mannone. It was still only intended that he would sit on the bench, but an injury to Manuel Almunia in the warm-up before Arsenal’s away game at Blackpool – a game featuring a far-from-ideal colour-clash – meant that Lehmann was called into action, wearing number 13.

Marko Grujic, conservative or coward?

The Serbian midfielder, who will join Liverpool in the summer, has expressed reservations about taking the number 8 shirt, last worn by Steven Gerrard. Of his other suggestions, we’d certainly consider 35 a lesser evil than 88.

Last summer, Danny Ings also decided he’d prefer a higher number so as not to invite pressure from the off. Is it indulging players to allow them do this, or are they being given a free pass to shirk responsibility?